Guitar Double Stops: What they are and how to play them
Guitar double stops can add a lot of flavor to your playing. They add life and fullness to both rhythm and lead playing, creating interesting textures not achieved by basic chords or single notes alone. You’ll see them commonly used in blues, rock, metal, and even jazz music. Jimi Hendrix used them extensively in his playing, particularly in songs like Little Wing and Electric Ladyland.
In this lesson we’ll cover some basics of double stops, including what they are, how they’re derived, and how to incorporate them into your playing through examples from Hendrix and others.
What is a guitar double stop?
A guitar double stop, also known as a dyad, is when two notes are played at the same time. It’s similar to a chord, but contains only two notes instead of three.
You frequently see double stops used in rhythm playing to add texture to chord progressions or as transitions between chords. But they’re also used in lead playing and guitar solos as well.
What notes are used for guitar double stops?
Double stops are derived from harmonized scale notes. In other words, they’re created by taking two notes from a given scale and playing them at the same time. Some of the common intervals are:
- 3rds (two notes that are a 3rd apart)
- 4ths (two notes that are a 4th apart)
- 5ths (two notes that are a 5th apart)
- 6ths (two notes that are a 6th apart)
- Octaves (two notes that are an octave apart)
Let’s take a look at some examples of each using the harmonized A major scale.
Any of these examples can be incorporated into your playing. You’ll find some are more flexible and can be used often while others may only fit certain applications.
Pentatonic Scale Double Stops
An easy way to find notes that work well for double stops is by using the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic is so versatile and easy to play it’s probably the most common application you see in rock and blues. Let’s take a look at an example using the A minor pentatonic scale.
We can take any two adjacent fretboard notes of the A minor pentatonic scale to create double stops. The diagram below shows double stops for position one of the scale.
Playing through each double stop we get the following:
These types of double stops can be found using any position of the minor or major pentatonic scales. Of course, some will sound better than others and some positions allow for easier use than others as well.
Triad Double Stops
Another method of finding double stops that sound great is utilizing major and minor triads. Triads are just three note chords, so you can take any of the triad shapes across all string groupings and simply remove one note and have a double stop.
Playing through these triads we get the following:
As with the pentatonic scale, double stops can be pulled from all triads across the entire fretboard.
Playing double stops on the guitar
There are many different ways double stops can be utilized on the guitar with various guitar techniques. We’ll take a look at a few here.
Nothing fancy here, we’re just picking each double stop that’s played. This technique works well for any type of double stop.
Hybrid picking combines picking with a guitar pick and fingers. In this example, you’ll play the double stops with the middle and/or ring finger of the picking hand.
With slides, you’re just slide up or down between double stops. This technique works well when both sets of notes have the same structure and you don’t have to modify your fingering between them.
With this technique you can utilize bends on one or both of the notes in the double stop.
This technique is really common and one used a lot by Hendrix. With hammer-ons and pull-offs, one or both notes of the double stops are played with the given technique.
Guitar Songs with Double Stops
There’s nothing better than using examples from real songs to learn how to use a technique. It provides the much needed context to how a concept fits with other musical components.
Let’s start off with a couple of Hendrix double stops.
Jimi Hendrix Double Stops
There are tons of examples that can be pulled from Hendrix, but we’re going to look at just two.
These double stops are from the intro to Little Wing and utilize the A minor scale as shown in the fretboard diagram below. I haven’t counted, but I’m sure there are at least a dozen examples of double stops in the Little Wing intro.
Wait Until Tomorrow
In Wait Until Tomorrow, Hendrix uses double stops from the E minor scale with an added major 6th to create this cool lick. I love the uniqueness of this double stop lick.
Other Songs Examples
Switching gears, here are a few examples of double stops from other songs.
Endless Parade – Gov’t Mule
Endless Parade opens with a double stop hammer on using the C#m pentatonic scale (technically Cm since the guitar is tuned down 1/2 step to E♭). The song is littered with double stops, so definitely give it a full listen to pull out some of the others utilized by Warren Haynes.
Listen: Gov’t Mule – Endless Parade
You Could Be Mine – Guns N’ Roses
The double stops in the beginning of You Could Be Mine come from the F#m and Em pentatonic scales with the addition of the major 6th, adding a little blues flavor to the licks.
Listen: You Could Be Mine – Guns N’ Roses
That Was A Crazy Game of Poker – O.A.R.
These double stops come straight from the C major pentatonic scale.
Listen: That Was A Crazy Game of Poker – O.A.R.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Pink Floyd
When I think of Pink Floyd, I typically think of David Gilmour’s awesome use of triads. However, he does like to use descending double stops for guitar fills such as this one from Shine On You Crazy Diamond. This lick comes directly from the F major pentatonic scale.
Listen: Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Pink Floyd
In this lesson we looked at double stops on guitar. We learned where they come from and how they’re utilized. These simple two-note structures can add a lot to both rhythm and lead playing, making them worthy of being a part of your guitar repertoire. Practice the examples in this lesson and apply our own style and flavor to them. Be sure to use them both in your lead playing and rhythm, as they’re great for incorporating into chord progressions.
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